How to Survive Search Engine Changes

With all the hoopla following the latest Google updates and Yahoo changes, advertisers and search engine marketers (SEMs) are scrambling for the latest and greatest strategies.

Should firms practicing search engine marketing rush into those so-called latest-and-greatest strategies? If you have a well-planned search engine marketing campaign, your site can not only survive, but win with, all the recent search engine changes.

The Client Panic Attack

Below, a typical client phone conversation after Google or Yahoo updates its index.

SEM: Hi. How can I help you?

Client: My site’s positions dropped in Google! Help! What should we do?

SEM: OK, don’t panic. Let’s see what happened. We should look at your site statistics. Will you please open that up for me?

(Searches for client’s site in Google and Yahoo.)

I see both Google and Yahoo indexed the pages on your site. While you’re opening your site statistics, I’ll check to see if Google or Yahoo dropped any pages from their indices.

No, both did index the pages on your site. No linking problems, either. Your site doesn’t appear to be penalized for spam. You’ve been following all the search engines’ guidelines, right?

Client: Right, no search engine spam.

SEM: Great! If you have your statistics open, tell me what traffic looks like. Has Google or Yahoo traffic decreased, increased, or stayed the same?

Client: It stayed the same.

SEM: Good! Look at the section of your statistics that show which search engine spiders visited the site. See Googlebot anywhere?

Client: Yes.

SEM: Has Googlebot regularly visited your site within the past month or so?

Client: It looks like Google spidered our site a couple of days ago.

SEM: Fantastic. Since I see pages in Google’s index, and your logs show Googlebot regularly spidered your site, it means Google has no problem accessing the information on your site. Have you received fewer inquiries or sales as a result of the Google or Yahoo changes?

Client: No.

SEM: Just so we’re clear. Your Google positions have changed. Your traffic from Google hasn’t changed, or changed very little. The number of inquiries from your Web site are more or less the same. Is that accurate?

Client: Yes.

SEM: Well, if your site is receiving high-quality traffic from the search engines, it really doesn’t matter that your positions changed, does it?

Client: No. I guess positioning isn’t as important as I thought.

SEM: If you got high-quality traffic but low conversions from Yahoo and Google, I’d tell you the problem was likely landing page usability issues, calls-to-action (CTAs), or your value proposition. Do your statistics and sales indicate we should usability-test some pages or use focus groups to make CTAs clearer?

Client: No, conversions are fine.

SEM: OK, then you probably have nothing to worry about. If you notice any significant dips in site traffic, give us a call. We’ll be more than happy to help.

Client: Thanks so much! Bye.


I was tempted to hire some actors and produce this little “play” for our office voicemail: For sales, press 1. For design, press 2. Site affected by latest Google and Yahoo updates, press 3.

We’ve been fortunate. The latest Google and Yahoo changes didn’t adversely affect our sites or our clients’, save one (due to technical issues). Others haven’t shared our experience.

When Google, Yahoo, or any search engine suddenly updates its index, some tips to get you through it:

  • Don’t panic. Search engines change their algorithms all the time. They partner with other search engines. They evolve to have better spiders. Search engine changes often have nothing to do with what you’re doing on your own site.I know how difficult it is if your boss starts breathing down your neck when positioning disappears. Panicking won’t help the situation. Accept that search engine positions always change. You will survive them.
  • Check your analytics software or log files to understand how your site is affected. In many cases, search engine changes don’t affect sites at all. Sometimes, you might see a downward traffic spike, then it returns to normal.
  • Understand what you can change and change it. Again, analytics software is very helpful. If the search engines can spider your site and do so, then you, your programmers, and your developers didn’t do anything to negatively impact your site’s search engine visibility.
  • When in doubt, buy ads. Search engine advertising provides something “natural” or “organic” optimization doesn’t: a guarantee. If your company absolutely needs search engine visibility, search engine advertising should be in your marketing plan.
  • Use paid inclusion for a quick fix — but understand paid inclusion is evolving. You may want to wait for the dust to settle before going down that road. The main benefit of paid inclusion is it’s the fastest route to appearing in the Web page sections of search engine results pages (SERPs).

If you know you’ll use search engine marketing as part of your overall online marketing plan, assess the values of each strategy. That way, you’ll be prepared for any search engine change.

Want more search information? ClickZ Search Archives contains all our search columns, organized by topic.

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